The long-awaited announcement of the successor to the retiring Catholic archbishop of Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, has sparked an unusual outcry in Belgium. The new archbishop, André-Mutien Léonard, is sometimes called “the Belgian Ratzinger” for his conservative views. Danneels ranks as one of the last liberal prelates in a Church hierarchy that has turned increasingly traditional under Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict.
Léonard has been a controversial figure in Belgium for his critical stands on homosexuality, same-sex marriage and condom use. He has been an outspoken opponent of abortion and euthanasia, both of which are legal in Belgium, and criticised the Catholic universities of Leuven and Louvain for their research into assisted reproduction and embryonic stem cells.
The most outspoken comment came from Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx, who is the country’s health minister. “Church and State are separate in Belgium, but when there are problems in our society, all the social partners sit down around a table, including representatives of secularism and of religion,” she told RTL radio. “Cardinal Danneels was a man of openness, of tolerance and was able to fit in there. Archbishop Léonard has already regularly challenged decisions made by our parliament.”
Onkelinx said Léonard’s appointment could upset the balance between secular and religious that Belgium has found. “Concerning AIDS, he’s against the use of condoms even while people are dying from it every day. He is against abortion and euthanasia … The pope’s choice could undermine the compromise that allows us to live together with respect for everyone.”